December witnesed the culmination of many months of effort by my small game group as we gathered for our first (hopefully annual) Apoc-Luck game day. As you might surmise from the name, this was an Apocalypse-sized game of Warhammer 40,000 combined with a pot-luck dinner. Food and gaming: What could be better than that?!
For this event, we ventured beyond the friendly confines of my game room and booked out a local Girl Scouts activity center. This proved to be a great decision, as the activity center gave us tons of space, restrooms, a full kitchen and a working fireplace!
The game itself was roughly 200 Power Level per side. John, Jim and Alex represented the Forces of the Imperium as they attempted to breach the defenses at the Treyarch Defensive Salient (a key location in our Caluphel Prime narrative setting). Opposing them was a strange alliance of Death Guard Chaos Space Marines and Tau from the L’Ranna Company. My Death Guard were led by mighty Mortarion, who for this game had taken on the aspect of a fearsome plague dragon. So there was a primarch on the field, even though he didn’t look exactly like the stock model from Games Workshop! More on that later.
The particulars of our scenario, as well as the narrative backstory for the game, can be found in our game handout. Click here to check it out!
At 200 Power Level per side, this game was on the small end of the Apocalypse spectrum, but it nonetheless represented our biggest game of Warhammer 40k to date. We gave ourselves plenty of time to play, and we also instituted a 30-minute timer on each side’s game turn. This was a master stroke, as it kept us focused on our turns and really ratcheted up the real-time tactical decision-making (and the tension that goes along with it!). I think we’ll use a turn clock for bigger games in the future.
For the battlefield, we set up an urban/tundra interface zone, with a forested steppe leading into a ruined urban center. The scenario had four distinct sectors on the battlefield: the Mustering Area and the Spearpoint (both on the attackers’ side of the table) and the Defensive Salient and the Stronghold (both in the defenders’ zone). These four areas each had distinct victory conditions associated with them, detailed in the game handout.
Here’s a look at the battlefield before we deployed our armies. Love that fire crackling in the background!
Jim and John were commanding an armored battlation of Imperial Guard, with plenty of battle tanks and veteran infantry to hold the line and drive a wedge into the defenders’ ranks. Jim’s son Alex had brought a contingent of Space Marines from the Salamanders chapter. The whole thing was anchored by Jim’s beautiful Baneblade, which had had just finished painting earlier that week! Way to go, Jim — nothing like a deadline to get you motivated!
I could have photographed Jim’s amazing collection of Imperial armor all day! So much attention to detail and amazing conversion work…
Anyway, Paul and I carefully deployed our defenders in the ruins of the Stronghold zone. We were frankly terrified of all the firepower that faced us across the battlefield! Paul kept a number of units back to deploy later in the game via ambush or deep strike, so the actual number of figures in our deployment area looked rather small.
I positioned my Death Guard (led by mighty Mortarion in his plague dragon form) in a big blob in the Stronghold, ready to advance into the Defensive Salient on turn 1.
The “blob” deployment seems essential for Death Guard, who have a lot of aura effects that overlap and give benefits to nearby units. What you’re seeing here is pretty much the contents of the Dark Imperium starter set — 7 Plague Marines, 20 Poxwalkers, a Foetid Bloat-Drone, a Malignant Plaguecaster (converted) and a Noxious Blightbringer. Oh yeah, and my Lord of Contagion was standing in for Typhus.
Here’s another look at our deployment area. You can see Paul’s Hammerhead lurking just out of sight behind a ruined building, as well as his Fire Warriors camped out in the command bunker.
And here’s a look at what awaited us across the battlefield. It’s pretty intimidating!
With that, I started the first 30-minute timer, and the Imperials began their first turn!
We quickly learned that Jim and John had spent the days leading up to Apoc-Luck 2017 developing a plan of attack for this game. They had worked out a target priority system so that they could make the most efficient use of their 30 minute turn. Their number one priority was Mortarion!
So he received the brunt of the firepower on turn 1 — battle cannons, demolisher cannons, lascannons, you name it! The size of the model coupled with the crazy range of most of these tank-mounted guns meant that virtually everything could see and fire at my big ol’ plague dragon.
John surprised us all by deploying a Leman Russ Punisher (with the big rotary cannon) in ambush near the advancing mass of Death Guard infantry. It rolled a fearsome amount of dice and helped contribute to Mortarion losing 11 wounds in turn 1 (he only had 18!).
But when our turn came, Paul’s eagle-eyed Tau fired back, destroying the Punisher and taking some stress off my flank. The advance continued!
I know that in the new edition of 40k, you’re supposed to remove destroyed vehicles. But we just couldn’t bring ourselves to remove such beautiful models, particularly when we had the opportunity to add some colored wool and use them as terrain pieces after their death.
We began turn 2 with Mortarion on the ropes and the Imperial armor grinding its way through the Spearpoint and into the Defensive Salient. Here you can see a Land Raider from the Salamanders chapter (commanded by Alex) and a Leman Russ supported by a squad of veterans preparing to enter the urban center.
At this point, Alex deployed a squad of Terminators into the defenders’ backfield in a desperate gambit to take out Paul’s heavy Riptide battle suit. Suddenly we had the enemy knocking on our back door!
Paul very wisely advanced a squad of Fire Warriors out of the cover of their bunker and used this force to mercilessly cut down the marauding Terminators.
Back in the center of the table, the Death Guard advance was grinding forward into the Defensive Salient. This was a major objective for the Chaos and Tau players — to occupy the salient while throwing back the assault by the attackers. So we had to move forward, while somehow stopping the grim armored spearpoint that was surging towards us.
It was around this point that Mortarion died. Oh no! He actually perished without doing much of anything on the battlefield. He never fired his cool gun or got into close combat. I used his psyker powers a few times, to decent effect, but his major role on the battlefield was ammo sponge.
At this point, I started to realize a few things about the Death Guard army as presented in the new codex. Namely, most of their offensive abilities are designed to interact with enemy infantry squads, not single models like vehicles or dreadnoughts. And since John and Jim didn’t bring much in the way of infantry, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to use all of my cool new rules!
There were a couple turns in the game where I just moved, cast Smite a few times (my other psyker powers being more designed to wallop infantry, alas) and fired a few heavy weapons. I mean, my guys looked *damn good* throughout all of this, but it was still a bit of a mismatch in terms of the juiciest bits from the Death Guard codex.
Funny, I didn’t hear Jim or John complaining about it! 🙂
As you can see from these pics, our forces crashed together in the center of the Defensive Salient. Battle tanks equipped with horrific cannons and lasers unleashed their ordinance on the oozing, putrid ranks of the Death Guard.
In response, the combined firepower of the Tau and Death Guard ripped through the advancing tanks, leaving burning wreckage in their wake.
At this point, we were midway through the game, and Paul and I noticed that the attackers had cleverly boxed us out of any sort of ambush deployment on their side of the table. In 40k, ambushers can appear anywhere on the table that’s more than 9 inches away from an enemy model — but careful model placement by the attackers meant that Paul and I didn’t have any viable real estate to use for ambush deployment!
Well played, Imperium.
So instead, Paul and I said “screw it” and dropped our ambushers right into the Defensive Salient, where the fighting was the thickest. Here are Paul’s Crisis Battle Suits arriving, while in the background my Blightlord Terminators teleported onto the elevated ruin.
The arrival of these ambushers proved decisive for the defenders — and helped contribute to the downfall of the mighty Baneblade!
Yes, it’s true. The centuries-old battle tank, veteran of a hundred wars on a thousand planets, burst apart under the sustained firepower of the Tau and Chaos defenders.
Farewell, you gorgeous behemoth.
Even as the Baneblade met its glorious end, the force of the Imperium were continuing their sustained assault upon the Defensive Salient. Wave after wave of artillery fire crashed in amongst the ranks of the Death Guard, eviscerating the Poxwalkers and seriously pissing off Typhus and his lieutenants.
Out on the steppe, infantry reinforcements advanced toward the smoke and flames of the Defensive Salient.
Talk about a human wave!
Here’s a poignant photo of John as he gazes off into the middle distance, weighing the fate of countless hundreds of soldiers in the palm of his hand.
And here’s a closer look at the gnarly situation in the center of the battlefield. So much devastation! The Tau and the Chaos Terminators consolidated their position, occupying the ruins and basically daring the attackers to venture into this cauldron of destruction.
At this point, despite the horrendous casualties we’d taken, both Paul and I had a fairly solid mobile reserve still available in the Stronghold area. In particular, I had a Foetid Bloat-Drone and a Rhino with 10 Plague Marines packed inside, both fresh and just waiting for the opportunity to pounce.
The Imperials still had a lot of guns and some mobility, but they were running short on time to complete their mission objectives. They decided to throw everything they had into the Defensive Salient!
That meant these Tau weren’t long for the world, alas.
Even as his Crisis Suits were slaughtered, Paul still had a few tricks up his sleeve. His HQ unit, Commander Goldmoon, was a potent force to be reckoned with, and he positioned her for a long-range strike on the Imperials’ backfield resources. If she could get into combat, any one of the vulnerable support units in the backfield might be toast.
Over in the center of the battlefield, near the massive scrum of smoking, wrecked tanks, the Death Guard were readying themselves for one final push — out of the Defensive Salient and into the Spearpoint. In a word: CHAAAAAAARGE!
By occupying the Spearpoint sector, they were attempting to deny a victory point for their opponents. Clever!
As fate would have it, the battered remnants of the Poxwalkers horde (initially 20-strong at the outset of the game, now numbering just half a dozen) were the first ones to surge past the burning tanks and into the Spearpoint sector.
At this point, the three Imperial players realized they would need to eliminate the Poxwalkers if they wanted to gain the victory point for holding the Spearpoint zone. John and Alex frantically discussed strategy to see how many guns they could bring to bear.
Jim attacked with the handful of units that still remained able to deal damage on his side of the table. The expression on his face should tell you everything you need to know about how this dice roll went.
When the smoke cleared, all but one of the Poxwalkers had been slaughtered. ALL BUT ONE! The lone survivor cackled with glee as the Imperials were denied their crucial victory point.
(I didn’t have a photo of the very last guy, so you’ll have to make do with a photo of the last *few* guys.)
At this point, we did the math and found that the Imperial players didn’t have time to make up the difference in victory points separating them from the defenders.
The Tau and Chaos forces had emerged victorious! But their victory came at a fearsome cost, with dead soldiers and wrecked materiel strewn across the battlefield. The Death Guard in particular had been shattered by the defeat of their daemon prince primarch.
After the game, we took our time packing up and discussing the game. We agreed that we really liked the venue — the Girl Scout center was fairly affordable and offered a lot of space. The ability to spread out our stuff was really ideal. Each player had an entire table to himself to organize his models, books and figures. It was nice to get a “change of scenery” for our big games. We discussed doing this again next year, and maybe even opening up the facility to a few more attendees.
The game itself was a ton of fun. It featured several big initiative swings in both directions over the course of the game. For example, I would have assured you that the defenders were going to be defeated following the fall of Mortarion, particularly since I knew he had died without taking out *any* opposing unit. Ugh, indeed.
But Paul and I rallied after that loss and played to the scenario, and were rewarded for it.
The 30-minute turns definitely raised the stakes for our game, particularly in the early turns, but we agreed it also added a lot of suspense — and it probably made us better better players as a result.
So the narrative of Caluphel continues, with the forces of the Imperium dealt a grievious setback by their defeat at the Treyarch Defensive Salient. The Tau have an opportunity to expand beyond their initial landing zone, and the Death Guard have some new corpses to reanimate as gruesome Poxwalkers.
On the horizon for us … more 40k, more Scrappers, maybe some Necromunda? Stay tuned!